When I meet someone for the first time and reveal that I’m a medical student, the reaction is quite often close to awe. I’ll typically receive an unnecessary amount of attention in the room from a parent or hear, “Wow, I wish I was that smart.” I’ve encountered several conversations with friends, family and strangers in which I visibly sense a feeling of unease due to the fact that I’m a medical student. But the truth of the matter is that I’d much rather be seen as an ordinary human being, not stereotyped by the idealistic view of medicine as a perfect science and therefore a perfect person. That I’m imperfect, medicine is imperfect, and our interwoven relationship may prove an art as much as it is an uncertainty in healthcare.
There is an overwhelming stigma pressuring medical students to be perfect in order to succeed throughout medical practice. Rumors constantly hover over our heads claiming that we all come from common backgrounds, study every waking hour, have no time for family and can’t make any mistakes. I will be the first person to tell you most, if not all, of that is completely wrong. Medical students are similar to many young adults trying to stay afloat in the real world. We’ll make mistakes through a misdiagnosis just like an accountant may miscalculate a client’s taxes or a businessman may close on a bad deal that puts his job at stake. In fact, many of us will fail in more than one aspect of medical school–whether it is missing a critical concept on an exam, forgetting about a scheduled meeting or failing to allocate more time for loved ones. The point is, we all come from diverse upbringings with various experiences under our belt that bring out the uniqueness in each individual. Although we are driven to enter into a “profession of perfection” (which it isn’t…trust me), it doesn’t make us any better or worse than the single mom caring for her kids or the dad who’s trying to make ends meet each month for his family. Although we put on different shoes to go to work, we still breathe the same air and wonder if we locked the door on the way out. At the end of the day, we’re human.
I’ve asked several first-year medical students what they have either failed at or struggled with or what mistakes they have made throughout their lifetime. Throughout this endeavor, I hope you don’t focus too narrowly on our faults but instead gain an overarching view of similarity as ordinary beings living in a far from perfect world. Stated below are student’s responses to personal experiences they have faced (some more serious than others) throughout their journey to become compassionate (imperfect) physicians.
These are the confessions of a human:
“I was tutored in middle school and high school English courses because I was not up to speed like everyone else at the time.”
“I mean, let’s be honest, if given the choice between beer, football and studying…I choose beer and football every time.”
“I’ve left the oven on for an entire day. How the house didn’t burn down is a mystery to this day.”
“I was rejected from medical schools for three years before I got in.”
“I had a habit of walking away while filling up 100-gallon water buckets for horses…because that’s about as entertaining as it sounds. Multiple times I had forgotten to come back and left the water on overnight. Now that I pay water bills, I can see why my dad was so upset by that.”
“I spent months memorizing my piano recital piece. The night of the recital, I sat down to play my piece. In the middle of the song, my fingers froze and my brain blanked as I stared down at the piano in silent horror. I skipped to the last measure of the song, hastily played it and ran off the stage.”
“I struggled with losing weight for many years and still do.”
“I’ve ended friendships with certain individuals I wish I had forgiven and kept up with.”
“In college, after an evening of studying, I wanted to blow off some steam, so I decided that it would be a great idea to go on a late-night bike ride. The ride ended up making me even more stressed out; I didn’t see a speed bump while going downhill and went clear over the handlebars. I broke my wrist and needed surgery to screw it back together. Because the surgery would make me unable to write or type for a month, I put it off until I finished the semester.”
“Saturday night before going to bed, I set my normal alarm out of habit. So I got up at my normal time, showered, got ready in my business casual attire, and halfway through making my breakfast, I realized it was Sunday.”
Each and every one of us (whether a medical student or not) has encountered unwarranted hindrances that try to knock us off track. From minor struggles to mistakes that have made significant impact, we can relate to at least one of the experiences listed above. We still worry about budgeting, setting aside time for family and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Additionally, we’ll eventually fail in one or more of these aspects as well. So the next time you meet a medical student, remember we’re more similar than we are different. Chances are they’ve got a pile of laundry to do when they get home, too.
Shortly after being born in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, my family moved to Atlanta and then to Charlotte, North Carolina (where we currently reside). I graduated from the University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks) in the spring of 2015 with a major in Biological Sciences. My time at USC, my diverse experiences abroad in Kenya, my family’s experience with a debilitating autoimmune disease, and my clinical shadowing and volunteering experiences brought me into the medical profession. As I enter the next four years at the USC School of Medicine Greenville, I’m excited to embark on a new journey with my fellow classmates while focusing on compassionate, patient-centered care.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville